When Ultra-Enjoyment Outweighs Ultralight

We didn’t need a fire. (It was unseasonably warm.) We didn’t need s’mores. (Does anyone need s’mores?) We certainly didn’t need camp furniture. (We were used to roughing it.) And yet there we were, twelve women from the same hiking club standing in a circle in a dirt parking lot at 4 p.m. in Harriman State Park as our hike leader unloaded dry firewood from the trunk of her car. We handed it piece by piece to the person next to us, who in turn passed it around until we all had a hefty stick dutifully stuffed into our day packs.

The wood was followed by four bags of marshmallows, six large bars of chocolate, and three boxes of graham crackers, evenly distributed among the group. I managed to stuff a bar and a box next to my log. That left just enough room for the foil-wrapped sandwich I planned to toss in the fire for a fast dinner—in an effort to get to dessert sooner—and my seat pad because no way was I was going to eat s’mores with nothing between me and a rock.

Two of the women had little room in their packs for the s’mores fixings. At the time, I wondered: What could they possibly have packed for such a short, relatively easy hike of under two miles that their packs would be full?

What could they possibly have packed for such a short, relatively easy hike of under two miles that their packs would be full?

I knew most of the women, having hiked with them on various trails around the area—the Palisades Cliffs, Bear Mountain, Ramapo Valley, Pyramid Mountain, Norvin Green, and Wawayanda. I’d also joined several on a three-day trip in the Adirondacks. These were skilled hikers who lived to scale mountains. They weren’t the type to pack a lot of non-essentials.

With our packs loaded, we headed along trails wet from three consecutive days of rain (hence, the firewood) toward Bald Rocks, a grassy, mostly level open area with plenty of fire rings and places to pitch a tent or tie a hammock. By dusk, we’d reached our destination and found a site. Around us, campers were tying hammocks to trees and pitching tents.

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We built a fire, and organized the s’mores fixings on a tarp. While several women went on a mission to secure marshmallow-worthy sticks, I pulled out my seat pad. I noticed two women across the fire inserting metal poles into one another, flipping and turning them as though they were creating large-scale origami figures. But these were no cranes or orchids. They’d created camp chairs. After one completed her chair, she reached into her pack and pulled out another pouch. Flip, turn, insert, and voila! She’d assembled a table complete with cup holders strategically placed in the center. They inserted their water bottles into the holders and took a seat. Even through the flames of the fire, I could see that they were very happy (not to mention comfortable) campers.

I tossed my sandwich into the flames, a little disgusted, I admit. Then I approached the chairs.

I pointed to one. “Do you mind?” I asked the woman.

She smiled. “Go ahead,” she said as she rose.

I sat down. It was ridiculously comfortable for a camping chair—more comfy than any camping chair I’d ever tried. I envisioned myself pulling a gooey marshmallow from a stick as I sat in this chair, imagining it tasting a whole lot better than it would from my seat pad. I rose, and picked it up with one finger. It weighed less than the stick of firewood in my pack.

“Nice,” I said, setting it down and walking over to my seat pad, which I felt like kicking into the fire, but didn’t.

I drove home in the feeling like I’d just left a fancy spa.

After our feast, we walked about 50 feet to an open area where others from various campsites had gathered. We watched the sunset, then waited for the stars to appear. We located planets, and discussed the possibility of more s’mores. (Is there such a thing as too many, we wondered. We reluctantly decided the answer was yes.)

We returned to our fire and doused it with water, then packed up. We donned our headlamps and began hiking toward the trail.

“You’re leaving?” yelled one of the campers in a tone of disbelief.

We stood silent. Unsure perhaps of what to say. Did we really just hike up a mountain to eat s’mores, watch a sunset, then turn around and hike out—some of us hauling such creature comforts as furniture? Apparently, we did, and from the smiles around me, I’d wager that we’d do it again.

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“Guess so,” said someone in our group.

We heard laughter from the campers.

We laughed, too.

Then we removed our packs and assembled a care package of unopened bags of marshmallows, chocolate bars, and a box of graham crackers, and presented it to the campers who weren’t laughing anymore. In fact, they were speechless as they accepted our gift.

We said our goodbyes and hiked downhill through the darkness, stopping occasionally to admire the moon and stars through the branches, and peer into the dark forest.

Instead of returning to my car sweaty and exhausted, I felt a happy tiredness spread throughout my body. I drove home in the feeling like I’d just left a fancy spa—relaxed and happy, and with a newfound appreciation of the benefits of packing the creature comforts of home.